A monthly gauge of online labor demand in the United States rose 4 percent in February compared with the same month a year ago, led by gains in the utilities and retail sectors, according to data released on Thursday.

Compared with January, Monster Worldwide Inc (MWW.N), an online recruiting firm, said its monthly index rose by 6 percent in February.

The Monster Employment Index is a gauge of U.S. online job demand based on a real-time review of millions of employer job opportunities culled from a large selection of corporate career Web sites and job boards, including Monster.com.

A continued decline in government employment tempered gains in February.

Sustained expansionary trends in private sector hiring coupled with growing consumer confidence have led to positive year-over-year growth in the index, said Jesse Harriott, senior vice president and chief knowledge officer at Monster Worldwide.

Although index growth has eased since the early summer peak of 2010 due in part to a decline in public sector activity, it has been positive year-over-year since February 2010 as employers continue to maintain a measured approach to growth, Harriott said in a statement.


Of the 20 industries monitored by the Index, 10 showed positive annual growth trends.

Mining and wholesale trade led. Utilities jobs were up 17 percent, Monster said.

Retail employment rose 15 percent on a monthly basis, a trend similar to pre-recession activity, Monster said.

The steepest annual decline was in public administration, which slipped 25 percent. The finance and insurance sectors were down 8 percent, suggesting some stagnation in hiring for clerical and support roles, Monster said.

Among occupations, 15 of the 23 monitored by the index showed positive annual growth trends. Business and financial operations was up 11 percent, while architecture and engineering was up 10 percent in February, Monster said.

All 28 metropolitan markets recorded positive annual job growth in February, with Detroit and Philadelphia among the top growth markets.

The report comes ahead of the U.S. government's closely watched U.S. payroll report for February on Friday, which is expected to show payrolls rose about 185,000, up from 36,000 in in January.

In Europe, the Monster Employment Index's annual growth rate accelerated to 25 percent in January, despite a reduction in public sector opportunities. Germany continued to be the strongest overall job creator in Europe (Reporting by Edith Honan; Editing by Leslie Adler)